August 12, 2007 — Startling news from the U.S. Census Bureau: The number of black New Yorkers fell by more than 40,000 in the past six years, even as the city’s total population grew by some 200,000. It’s a disturbing figure – but not because it highlights anything sinister in municipal race relations. Rather, it confirms something thoughtful New Yorkers have known for a long time: Living here is far too expensive.
And a large portion of the blame resides with Albany and City Hall. The story behind the numbers is that droves of largely elderly African-Americans are moving south, where the cost of living is significantly lower. It’s a kind of reverse exodus from the waves of migration that filled northern inner cities in the early- and mid-20th century.
The trend has been building for years, but was hidden until recently by high rates of black immigration from Africa and the Caribbean. In fact, if you factor out immigration, Gotham’s overall population is declining significantly – which is why we suspect these numbers have a lot more to do with class than race.
We’ve said it before: New York’s middle class is being squeezed out of both the city and the state, and a major culprit is the crippling tax burden it shoulders. Not only do Gothamites have the unique privilege of paying three income taxes, but property and state business taxes are also some of the highest in the country, driving up prices across the board. (One would think that all that money would at least buy a working infrastructure.)
Rich and poor alike bear the cost of these taxes at some point, just as all benefit from the city’s continuing prosperity. (Not everything is doom and gloom, and Mayor Mike deserves some credit for keeping the good times going.)
But the city’s middle class is in a particularly precarious situation nonetheless: Not prosperous enough to keep up with the double punch of personal taxes and rising property-tax assessments, but resourceful enough to get out while they still can. And getting out they are: New York was one of only four states to lose population last year. Certainly, some African-American communities are particularly hard-hit.
Rents are skyrocketing in Harlem, for instance, driving out longtime residents and spurring calls for more affordable housing to maintain the neighborhood’s historic character. The problem with government-created “affordable housing,” however, is that it makes surrounding market-rate housing scarcer – and hence, less affordable.
You can be sure that the Census numbers on black emigration from the city will lead to renewed, but still misguided, calls to action. If state and city officials really want thriving, stable communities of all races, the best thing they can do is stop shoving their hands so far down New Yorkers’ pockets.